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Not Your Grandpa’s Enrollment Management: EM in the Modern University

The EvoLLLution | Not Your Grandpa’s Enrollment Management: EM in the Modern University
Effective enrollment management practices are central to the transformation of today’s colleges and universities, and the idea is wider in breadth and responsibility than many people on- and off-campus think.

The higher education industry is evolving. Today’s students have higher expectations than ever before and demand to be treated like customers. On the institutional side, though, college and university leaders are managing diminishing budgets and increasing external criticism while also trying to push away from the status quo. At the center of this shift sits the enrollment management office, born out of necessity and taking on an increasingly important part in helping institutions adapt to the changes in their space. In this interview, Dean Kahler shares his thoughts on the role of enrollment management shops in supporting institutional growth and reflects on the importance of technology in playing this critical role.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): What are some of the characteristics of a successful enrollment management shop at a college or university today?

Dean Kahler (DK): Enrollment Management (EM) division portfolios in colleges and universities are quite diverse today. Some EM divisions can be focused solely upon recruitment, marketing and outreach. Others may also include strong retention and academic student support programs to help the students succeed in obtaining their educational objective.

The strongest EM divisions heavily utilize data analysis to evaluate ROI, to predict student success, and to build effective and efficient programs. Financial models in scholarship leveraging and managing the school’s discount rates can be found in many EM divisions. Algorithms are being developed to identify those students most likely to enroll at a school or students at risk to not graduate.

A strong EM division will see the importance of building relationships. The success of the students very early in their educational careers, throughout the college years, and even after they graduate is very important and EM divisions collaborate with other programs to help students succeed. Additionally, enrollment managers recognize the importance of developing relationships across the campus community, within the local and state communities. Today’s enrollment managers also establish global partnerships as more and more schools are recruiting international students to their campuses and sending the domestic students abroad to supplement the academic experience.

Evo: How do tech tools like CRMs and SISs help the effectiveness and efficiency of the enrollment management team?

DK: Whether the interest is in recruitment or retention, enrollment management teams are continually looking at ways to be more efficient and effective in their efforts to help students. The technology that is available to help in those efforts has developed quite dramatically in the last decade. CRMs allow the staff to maintain communications with both large numbers of prospective and current students in a very coordinated and automated manner. For prospective students it is important to maintain strong connections to those students and to build and keep their interest in your school in an increasingly competitive environment. The CRM also allows staff to maintain communication with our enrolled students to better support them and help them to obtain their educational objective.

An EM team also relies heavily upon their Student Information System (SIS) on the campus to retain the data and monitor the progress of their students. Student Information Systems frequently hold the data that drive recruitment and retention software and analytical reports that enrollment management teams utilize. The SIS could be argued to be the most important software and data warehouse for colleges and universities.

There are so many different technologies available to enrollment management teams today. A strong enrollment management team utilizes the available technology to serve the needs of very diverse students. We are now able to provide a tremendous amount of 24/7/365 service that our students desire. We can provide transcripts to students practically anywhere in the world. We are able to better accommodate students who are taking classes at multiple schools to finish a degree. We are able to offer courses in a wide variety of formats to meet the variety of needs that our students have. Without those tech tools much of what our students want today from higher education would be very difficult to provide.

Evo: What role does strategic enrollment management play in the long-term success of a college or university?

DK: The higher education business has been changing dramatically in the last decade after remaining relatively unchanged for many years. The addition of online programs, changes in delivery models, MOOCs, and pathway programs, to mention only a few, are very exciting but also bring challenges to the business. The diversity of approaches and demands from our students is changing. Universities have to change to accommodate the needs of a more consumer-driven industry.

I think that enrollment managers can bring another perspective to the university to help in strategically thinking about the future of higher education. They can offer holistic perspectives to respond to market demands and trends in higher education. I think that enrollment managers can in some ways help to connect the many systems within the university setting to best help with recruitment and retention.

Progressive enrollment managers can also be helpful in surveying and anticipating the changes in higher education. Many say that EM is both an art and a science. I think that enrollment managers have to be able to be both analytical as well as understand the psychology of recruitment and retention. We have to have good business acumen while understanding what our very diverse constituents want and need.

Evo: What are some of the most significant misconceptions people both on- and off- campus tend to have about enrollment management?

DK: Enrollment management is still relatively new to higher education. In some cases, enrollment management has been synonymous with recruitment and admissions. However, also as important to enrollment is the success of students once they matriculate. Enrollment management is about helping the students to obtain their desired learning objective, and retention is critical to EM. Recruitment and retention are dependent upon the success of the other.

Many believe that building enrollment is easy. Enrollment management has become very technical and complex with increased competition for more diverse types of students with very diverse interests and needs. Discount rates, financial aid leveraging, predictive modeling, college rankings, and so on have made the high-stakes business very exciting but also very challenging. It has required that enrollment managers have a strong repertoire of skills to help the entire campus team reach the enrollment objectives. It is an exciting, fast-paced, demanding but very gratifying business to be serving today’s college students.

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